Sunday, 22 December 2013

An artifact of early San Francisco multiculturalism

In the America exhibition at the Art Gallery of New South Wales you can see this painting by Yun Gee which shows fellow artist Miki Hayakawa painting the portrait of a black man. Gee migrated to the US in 1921, which is about the same time as my father's father came to Melbourne. (Hayakawa went from Hokkaido to the US even earlier, in 1903, when she was a small child.) Qua painting this is not particularly special, this study, but as a document of multicultural San Francisco it's quite interesting. It's a shame my grandfather had so little interest in the fine arts, as he might have collected works made in the 20s and 30s in Australia.

What's interesting in the painting from a stylistic point of view is how the figured sitter "in the flesh" is rendered in a more abstract way than his figuration in Hayakawa's painting, which is on the left-hand side of this study. You can think about what this means at leisure. To me it suggests that the social relations that conditioned how people lived at the time are more "normal" in the context of the artist's practice, than they are in everyday life. It's just an idea, anyway.

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